A few days ago, a guest blogger on Feministe posted a list of things not to say to a friend who tells you they've been sexually assaulted. It's a non-exhaustive list, of course. I want to focus on a few statements that fall under one category: minimizing.
"Are you sure that happened?" Well, maybe I'm not. Denial is a common phenomenon in sexual assault victims. Even if we do remember all aspects of the assault, which some people don't, we may still doubt whehter it "counts" or was "bad enough". Don't reinforce this by asking me whether I'm sure it happened. If we are sure of ourselves, don't tell us that we should be in denial either. And yes, I have been told this exact thing.
"You could be fabricating this whole thing." While this is extremely rude when you mean the sexual assault itself, it is also very rude and insensitive when you refer to the post-traumatic symptoms your friend may be suffering from. I have been told on many occasions that I could be fabricating my symptoms. What would be cool about fabricating depressin, anxiety, flashbacks, dissocaiton or other symptoms? No, we don't fake them for attention. It's no fun having these symptoms and we are ourselves affected the most by ur own symptoms. Don't you even dare say we're using our symptoms to bother you.
"It could've been worse." I think this all the time about the sexual violation I experienced. Of course it could've been worse. I know that people who've been raped on many occasions sometimes come out really well, while I suffer severe trauma-based symptoms after "only" a few incidients of sexual violation. I don't need my friends to reinforce the negative self-talk this produces. The effects are there, no matter how "minor" my assault may've been.
"But you look fine." So what? I may be hiding my feelings or even suppressing the whole experience. Besides, I generally don't want to bother friends with my feelings, cause I've been rejected a few too many times over them.
"Are you okay now?" This is the more polite version of "Get over it!" You may not be minimizing the assault itself, but you are certainly minimizing my feelings about it. You may ask me if i"m physically safe, but don't ask if I'm okay, cause quite likely, I'm not.
There are many more comments that are insensitve that the guest blogger did not list. For example, rationalizing away post-traumatic symptoms is also rude. "You are too sensitive." A well-meaning friend will not say this, but under this category also fall comments that explain away the trauma. Even my therapist has told me that I'm more sensitive to trauma than most people due to my disabilities. While this may be factually true, it's not going to validate me. I don't care whether I would not have had the trauma-based symptoms I have if I weren't disabled. The thing is I have these symptoms. Deal with it. If you're a therapist, help me overcome these symptoms. If you're a friend, just listening without bias is as much as you can do.